(Health Secrets Newsletter) Eating grilled or baked fish could prevent the brain from shrinking, and therefore reduce the risk of cognitive decline, according to researchers from the University of Pittsburgh. The study focused on the structures of the brain associated with memory and learning, as a reduction in brain volume in these areas is thought to be associated with cognitive decline and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
What Does the Study Show?
The study was part of a larger cohort study, and the preliminary findings were presented at the 2011 meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. It involved 260 mentally healthy participants with an average age of 76, and its aim was to assess the relationship between their consumption of fish and the volume of grey matter in certain structures of their brains.
Grey matter is the parts of the brain that include the main bodies of nerve cells, and reduction in its volume is seen as an indicator that the health and function of the brain is in decline as it shows that these cells are shrinking.
At the beginning of the study the participants completed a questionnaire to determine the frequency with which they ate fish as well as the volume of fish and the method of cooking it. The participants also had a brain imaging scan to measure certain structures within the brain. After ten years the participants had another brain scan and the same structures within the brain were measured again for comparison.
Overall the results of the study indicated that grey matter in the brains of the participants who ate grilled or baked fish one or more times per week was three to five times less likely to have reduced in size than that of the participants who did not eat fish. This indicated that people who ate fish regularly had a reduced risk of cognitive decline which may lead to conditions such as Alzheimer’s. There was no obvious link between reduced brain size and those people that ate fried fish.
Researchers believe that this effect is due to the omega 3 fatty acids in fish which can increase blood flow to the brain, reduce inflammation, and limit the build up of harmful plaques on the brain. Frying fish reduces the levels of omega 3.
Which Fish to Eat
The majority of people could benefit from including more fish and shellfish in their diet because they are a great source of vitamins and minerals as well as omega 3. Everyone should aim to eat two portions of fish each week, and one of the portions should be oily fish, an excellent source of omega 3 which can also guard against heart disease. There are three main types of fish:
- Oily fish including salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, trout, and herring
- White fish including halibut, cod, haddock, sole, Pollack, flounder, sea bass and turbot
- Shellfish including shrimp, crab, mussels, oysters and squid
Steaming, baking, or grilling fish is a healthier option than frying, and these methods preserve the omega 3 content. Some fish such as sea bass can contain high concentrations of water pollutants so people that eat a lot of fish should limit their intake of these varieties.
Many people dislike the taste of fish, or find it difficult to include enough fish in their diet to get an adequate amount of omega 3. Luckily supplements of Omega Plus can provide the same protective effects without having to eat large amounts of fish.
Editor’s note: There are enough scare headlines to keep most people from ever eating fish again, so I’d like to mention that eating fish that have a high selenium content, such as salmon and tuna, has been declared safe because selenium binds with mercury and escorts it out of the body. It follows that eating fish that do not have a high selenium content is also safe if you increase your selenium levels to the optimal range. Most people are low on selenium because our food is grown in depleted soils, so supplementing it is a good idea even if you don’t wish to eat fish. The best way to increase your selenium level is to eat two or three Brazil nuts daily.